Making Sense of the Senseless

Like many Americans, I am grappling with the tragic shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier this week. I heard President Obama making yet another comment about a mass shooting, the 12th one he’s had to make since he’s been in office. I’ve briefly watched news reports of the senseless murder in, all of places, a church sanctuary where people were gathered for Bible study and prayer.

Yesterday I was shocked to hear the news media report that Dylann Storm Roof, age 21, had almost changed his mind about killing the 9 people inside this African American church because they were so nice and welcoming to him. Almost changed his mind.

And meanwhile the city of Charleston and this lovely African Methodist Episcopal Church and our nation are reeling.

“We are not African Americans, we are not black Americans, we are Americans across the board,” Edward Johnson, pastor of New Vision Cathedral in Lincolnville, South Carolina, said. “We have to address what race is because what we are calling race now is a lie. It is evil.”

As a white person who has grown up in the South, I’m not sure I am even qualified to speak to this issue. I do not know the pain of my black brothers and sisters, nor can I really relate to all they have been through in their history and its aftermath.

As a Christian, I am so, so sad to witness yet another senseless shooting, and this one so racially motivated…and motivated by hate. I don’t have words to describe my feelings. Maybe my feelings are not that important.

But I do know it is high time we start to address the underlying issues that have caused this tragedy. I want to have dialogue with people of color whose experience is so different from my own. I want to understand where they are coming from. I want to do my part to end the hatred and racism that continually rears its ugly head. I want to do something positive, uplifting. But right now all I can do is grieve and pray … and look at the people of Emanuel AME Church and admire their brave, forgiving response in the aftermath of such a senseless, horrific event. The families of the victims have expressed forgiveness. Would that I could do the same, show the same grace that they have, if something like this happened to one of my family members.

This church has lost its pastor and three other pastors. Six of the nine who were killed were women. The dead include a librarian, a high school coach and speech therapist, a college enrollment counselor, a recent college graduate, and a government employee. Meanwhile the city of Charleston and others are looking for ways to “move beyond” this tragedy and help prevent recurrence of similar incidents.

How does one move beyond such an event as took place this past Wednesday? Many of us try to rush on, try to fast-forward through the news, not wanting to dwell on a dark, dark situation.

May each of us examine ourselves, our own prejudices, and rouse ourselves to action. But may that action be preceded by much thought, prayer, and conversation with others who have radically different life experiences and points of view.

May we all be humble enough to let others be our teachers.

God, help us all.

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